Articles Tagged with: profile

Getting to Know You: Tim Mrozek, Artist

Tim Mrozek is an artist at Dig-It! Games, bringing environments and characters alive through modeling and animation. Tim grew up in Catonsville, which is just outside of Baltimore, and of course, is a huge Orioles fan. He moved to Silver Spring, MD about right years ago to take a job as a 3D artist and animator at the National Institutes of Health. After that, he worked for four years at Pixeldust Studios as Lead 3D Modeler and 3D animator and worked on around 20-25 projects, including Fabric of the Cosmos, Alien Deep, NOVA: Cracking Your Genetic Code, The Smithsonian’s X3D project. Tim was fortunate enough to be nominated for an Emmy for his work as character artist on a Smithsonian Channel show called Mass Extinction: Life on the Brink. Tim studied Animation Major at UMBC. In the spring, He’ll be back at UMBC to teach ART 484 (advanced animation) in the evenings.

Tim sat down to answer some questions about his average day in the studio , what attracted him to educational games and his go-to karaoke songs.

Tim

 

What’s an average day at Dig-It! Games look like for you?

The flow of my day changes pretty frequently, but there are a few things that remain pretty constant. Every day starts with my bike ride from Silver Spring to Bethesda. This, of course, is immediately followed by obtaining coffee. Then I’ll settle down at my desk where I’ll do a quick visual review of any works in progress posted by the other artists. After that it really varies on a daily basis. Sometimes I get right into zbrush and start sculpting a 3D model for one of our games, or I’ll open Photoshop and get to work designing the UI for one of our games, or menus. Sometimes it’s a team meeting to critique each others work and discuss how we want to move forward on a particular design or game. Each day is exciting when you have a team of artists you really enjoy working with, and the dev team isn’t too bad either.

What got you interested in game design?

I’ve always been incredibly intrigued by video games since the first time I played an NES. As a 32 year old, video games as a whole are only a few years older than me, so I’ve always been incredibly excited to age along with games. The moment that I really knew I wanted to pursue making games was when I first played Riven: The Sequel to Myst. I had never seen CG look so incredible. The mindblowing still renders in that game, combined with the really challenging, naturally integrated puzzles and story took me completely off-guard. I knew that I wanted to learn how to do this, and if I got lucky, make a living making games for the rest of my life. I’ve even joined a team of volunteers, called The Starry Expanse, that are rebuilding this inspirational game for the new generation using the Unreal Engine.

What is your favorite video or digital game from childhood?

Since I already mentioned Riven, I’ll go with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. This wasn’t the first 3D game I had played, but it was the first 3D game in my favorite series of games (Legend of Zelda). This game gave me a whole new perspective of what was possible in a video game. I have probably replayed this game about 10 times in my life. While small by today’s standards, the open world felt endless to me at the time. The first time I stepped onto Hyrule Field I felt like I was given complete freedom to explore anywhere I wanted, and I had never experienced this in a video game before.

What drew you to Dig-It! Games?
I’ve always been interested in using animation and CG for education. Before Dig-It! Games I was working at Pixeldust Studios where I was creating animation for Smithsonian Channel, National Geographic, and Discovery. I have always gravitated to games and TV that explore science, archaeology, and education as a whole. This, combined with my interest in making video games made Dig-It! a pretty natural choice. I love the idea of creating games that will inspire creativity and exploration in a new generation of kids.

What song would you sing at karaoke and why?
Funny you should ask, I was just at a karaoke party a week or two ago, and I sang three songs. Bad Romance, by Lady Gaga, Heaven on Their Minds from Jesus Christ, Superstar and In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins.


Getting to Know You: Steve Hunnicutt, Head Developer

Steve Hunnicutt is Dig-It! Games’ Head Developer responsible for bringing the coding to life. Steve’s father was in the Navy, so he grew up in lots of different places, including Honolulu, Hawaii for three years. After his father retired from the Navy, we moved to Jacksonville, Florida. He spent more of my childhood there than anywhere else, so he considers it his hometown. Steve moved to Baltimore in 1990 and has been living there ever since.

Steve sat down for a Q&A to give us more insight into his role at Dig-It! Games, what sparked his love of programming and how aspiring programmers can get started.

steve

What’s an average day at Dig-It! Games look like for you?
I don’t really have an “average” day. One day, we’re working out the design for a new game and doing prototypes. The next day, we may start working on the code architecture. Sometimes, I do concept sketches to communicate ideas to the rest of the team. It’s always something different.

What got you interested in game design?
I love playing games. Board games are favorites, but I’m always playing some sort of video game. Also, I’ve been coding in one language or another for almost thirty years. So when I had the opportunity to work at a game studio, I grabbed it.

Any advice for kids who want to become programmers?
It’s easier than ever to dip your toe into programming. There are lots of different ways to get started. One of the easiest is to start building web pages; all you need is a text editor and a web browser. There are innumerable tutorials to get you started. Once you have a simple page, you can add interactivity with JavaScript. You can make a lot of simple games very easily, but the platform has the potential for very complex games. The only limit is your imagination and your skill.

What is your favorite video or digital game from childhood?
My family purchased an Apple //e computer about the time I was starting the eighth grade. I took to it immediately, playing games, connecting to bulletin board systems (BBS) and writing my own programs. My favorite game was one that I played with my mother. It was called Starlanes.

The goal of Starlanes was to build the most profitable interstellar company. Each player would place a star base each turn. Adjacent star bases connected into a single company. Companies that were adjacent to a star were more profitable. In addition, each turn the player could buy stock in any of the companies, even your opponent’s. If two companies touched, they merged and you could get a big stock payoff.

Once upon a time, I had the source code to Starlanes. I still hope that someday I’ll find it again and I could bring it back to life on modern computers.

If you were ruler of your own country what would be the first law you would introduce?
This is a tough question. I think I would institute a social welfare system that guaranteed basic income, healthcare, and nutrition to my citizens. Read Ernest Callenbach’s “Ecotopia” for a much more detailed vision of a society that I find compelling.


Getting to Know You: Natasha Martinez, Developer

Hailing from Portsmouth, NH, Natasha Martinez is the newest member of the development team at Dig-It! Games. After graduating from the Rochester Institute of Technology with a degree in game design and development, Martinez jumped into the studio to begin working on a brand-new vocabulary game (I Have A Word™ is coming soon!). She is very much credited with the game’s development from start to finish.

Get to know Natasha with a short Q&A below:

What’s your day look like in the studio?

An average day at Dig-It! Games is very relaxed. I come in each morning and check for any new bugs found the day before. After fixing those, I launch right in to a new feature or two and keep progressing on the game. Each day, the game comes closer to a releasable version until it’s ready to go!

How did you first become interested in games—and what’s your favorite game that you’ve ever played (video, board game, app, etc.) and why?

Growing up, I always had a game to play, whether it was for Windows ’98 or the Dreamcast. I really enjoyed playing the games with my little brother. When we finally got Game Boys we were ecstatic! Our first game for it was Pokémon. I spent countless hours playing my first Pokémon game. We always got the newest one as soon as it came out.

Natasha

Why did you want to work at Dig-It! Games?

I’m very interested in educational games. I grew up playing great titles. I’m not sure how much content I remember now, but I do remember enjoying the math and reading. I want to continue making even more fun educational games. Learning doesn’t have to be boring! I want to mix the fun of video games with education.

I’m sure you’ve had a chance to play all of Dig-It! Games’ products. Which one is your favorite and why?

I enjoy 3 Digits the most. In elementary school, we had a unit to learn Mayan culture and their counting system. I was happy to refresh my memory on how to do it!

What’s your favorite snack food?
I love Scooby Doo fruit snacks!

Tell me about a favorite memory you’ve had so far in working with the team.

The other day we had a great time welcoming our newest team member, Tim Nicklas. We played Pictionary and had a great bonding experience.

Can you give me a sneak peek on something you’re working on right now?

We’re currently working on a new title for middle schoolers. I can’t tell you much, but it’s looking great so far!


Getting to Know You: Mimi Wack, Production Intern

This past summer, Mimi Wack joined the Dig-It! Games team as a production intern. Mimi is a University of Chicago junior majoring in Gender and Sexuality Studies, a dessert-lover, and gamer. Working daily with Head of Production Dayle Hodge, Mimi was responsible for keeping the whole team organized as they develop new games to be released later this year. Dayle shared:

 “Mimi is a joy to work with.  She’s conscientious, works hard and cares about Dig-It! Games’ mission. She’s a quick study, an excellent organizer and a truly wonderful person.  We’ll miss her when she goes back to school this year, but we hope to see her again next summer.”

Mimi will be heading to Chicago in a few weeks, but in the meantime, get to know her here on the blog:

Mimi Wack

Take us through your average day at the Dig-It! Games studio. What projects do you work on? What meetings do you go to? What’s your favorite part of the day?

Most of my work is keeping track of what needs to get done and by whom. There’s a lot of information that gets passed around the office, especially during design meetings when the team hashes out the plan for our next game, and it takes time to sort through it and organize everybody’s duties. I enjoy it, though–it’s satisfying work.

How did you first become interested in games—and what’s your favorite game that you’ve ever played (video, board game, app, etc.) and why?

I got into video games when I was young, with the very same kind of educational games I’m helping make now! My favorite at the time was Zoombinis, and my favorite game in general (which I still think holds up very well) was Spyro the Dragon: Ripto’s Rage. My very favorite game that I’ve played is Portal 2 because its mechanics are really inventive and it has a great storyline.

Why did you want to intern with Dig-It! Games?

I was mostly interested in game studios around the DC area, and Suzi was kind enough to respond to my application. When I looked at the released games, it brought back nostalgia for the educational games I’d played during elementary and middle school.

I’m sure you’ve had a chance to play all of Dig-It! Games’ products. Which one is your favorite and why?

I play a lot of Can U Dig It! It’s a great quick puzzle game, and I’ve always liked games that involve spatial thinking. I’m working on getting all the achievements now (most of the way done!).

What’s your biggest takeaway from your internship at the studio this summer?

My biggest takeaway is that while it’s easy to look at a finished game and say “oh, that’s easy, it’s just a video game”, actually being a part of producing them is mostly a series of complicated design meetings and organizing notes so that the art & development teams have a record of what they’re supposed to do (at least until the design is changed). And that making even the smallest components of a game, like a sparkly animation, involves some very specific communication and a bunch of intermediary steps. It’s a complicated process, basically. Game developers should get much more credit than they do.

What’s your favorite dessert?

It’s hard to beat the classic deliciousness of a chocolate chip cookie, but I also like brownies. And donuts. Honestly, there’s not a lot of desserts I don’t like.


Creative & Talented: Meet Nicolas Baker, Winner of the Roman Town Video Trailer Contest

Last month, the Roman Town™ Video Trailer Contest came to an end when the talented and innovative Nicolas Baker was chosen as Dig-It! Games’ winner. Since then, he’s visited the studio and hung out with the Dig-It! Games team, received the prize of an iPad, and downloaded it with all of Dig-It! Games’ apps. We spoke with Nicolas, 14, about his creative process and what he loves about our games.

Nicolas Baker Win

How did you develop your entry for the Roman Town Video Trailer Contest?

I started to brainstorm story ideas. At first, I had this idea for a spy mission, in which spies are trying to steal the iPad with the game on it. Then I realized that the storyline took too much time, so I decided to focus on screenshots of the game.

I used Final Cut Pro at school in the media lab. The contest was announced after final exams were over, so I spent class time working on the project, as well as after school. I did ask my media teacher for any additional editing software for the iPad, but the iMovie app did not give me as much freedom as I wanted.

I used screenshots of the game itself mixed with A-Roll of my sister and dad playing Roman Town. I wanted to give the audience a clear indication of who was playing the game, so I used an above the shoulder shot with my sister to show it was a young child and which game was being played. Then with my dad, I wanted them to know it was an adult—but they already knew the game, so I could just show him without the iPad screen.

Nicolas Baker Win 2

How much time did it take you to finish the project?

Working one day each week, it took me about a month to complete.

Do you want to be a filmmaker when you grow up?

I’ve spent three years of my middle school experience learning about media production and video editing, but I’m really interested in animation and art. I’d like to be an animator for Disney. After I did this project, it got me more interested in video editing and I’d like to take those skills, along with web and graphic design, to start a freelancing business.

What made you want to enter the contest?

I got the e-mail announcing the contest. I’ve known about Dig-It! Games for a while. I like their apps—they’re cool and fun. I realized I had plenty of experience to make a great trailer; it gave me the chance to take my learning experience and put it into a professional game trailer.

How did you feel when you won?

I was at the pool when I found out. I was checking to see if my parents were in touch, saw the subject line of the e-mail which said Congratulations, and I was really excited. I wasn’t sure if I’d gotten first place or second place at the time, but then I read through the entire e-mail and was ecstatic.

How did your parents react?

I called them and my mom first thought I was joking, but then I read through the whole e-mail with them. They’re proud of me.

What’s your favorite mini-game in Roman Town?

My favorite subject at school is math, so I like the translate Roman Numerals game.

Nicolas Baker Win 3

Would you be interested in becoming an artist at Dig-It! Games someday?

I really like the studio. Winning was the third time I’ve been there. I was able to talk to the artists and game designers, and they got to show me some of their animation software. I’d like to intern at Dig-It! Games or work part-time when I get older.